Research group Erich Nigg
The cell cycle and chromosome stability
The error-free distribution of the human genome (the chromosomes) in the course of cell division is a highly complex process. Deregulation of this process is an important cause of the genetic instability of tumor cells.
A human cell undergoing division.
Immunofluorescent microscopy makes various structures visible: chromosomes (blue), the mitotic spindle (green), and attachment points of the spindle to the chromosomes (red).
The development, growth and health of human beings require the division of billions of cells in the body. Tumor cells differ from healthy cells in that they proliferate by cell division almost without limit, misinterpret signals from neighboring cells, and penetrate various organs. These disruptive abilities are triggered by changes in the genetic material, the genome, which is organized in pairs of chromosomes. The causes of these chromosomal changes are largely unknown.
Our research group investigates the regulation of cell division, as well as the causes of chromosomal changes in tumor cells. Each healthy human cell has 46 chromosomes in its nucleus. During the cell division cycle, these have to be duplicated and segregated correctly into the daughter cells. In contrast to healthy cells, tumor cells are usually found to contain additional copies of chromosomes or chromosomal fragments.
Regulation of cell division and distribution of the chromosomes
Our research is focused on the characterization of regulatory enzymes, known as protein kinases that play important roles in the regulation of cell division and chromosome distribution. We also study cellular structures, notably centrosomes and the mitotic spindle that are important for chromosome distribution. Understanding the molecular basis of cell division may provide new approaches to cancer therapy.
We work primarily with human cell cultures and use a combination of biochemical methods, as well as cell and molecular biology approaches. Mass spectrometry is a key method for investigating protein complexes, while high resolution fluorescence microscopy is used to study living cells.